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Transgender Characters in TV and Film for Teens

2013 August 30
by Katie Shanahan Yu
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Courtesy of Flickr User Datchler

photo by flickr user Datchler

Inspired by the list of books featuring transgender teens published in the Summer 2013 issue of YALSA’s Young Adult Library Services Journal, I thought it would be an interesting connection to put together a similar list of movies for teens with transgender characters.  Two of my favorite things are film and books, and I’m a pretty big movie nerd so it seemed like a good fit. Then I started to do some research and was having a really hard time finding any movies- let alone teen movies- with a transgender character.

The best I could do were two independent movies, Boys Don’t Cry (1999) and Transamerica (2005), which are probably more adult, released years ago and pretty heavy thematically. Both movies are fabulous, don’t get me wrong– but I watched both when I was a teenager. It seemed important to find something slightly more current and with a positive perspective. This led me to expand my search to include television and/or film characters.

There are slightly more characters in television then film, although a good number of them come from Law and Order: SVU episodes. Rebecca Romijn played a man who became a woman on Ugly Betty back in 2006-2008. This is definitely a step in the right direction, but it does remind me of the Will & Grace problem. Does playing into stereotypes for laughter trivialize the issue, or is it just a good thing that transgender characters are getting exposure to a mainstream audience?

I’m not sure about the above question, but I do know a show that toes this line a lot better: Glee. Thank goodness for Ryan Murphy’s Glee. While some of the story lines may have gone overboard recently, it is one of the few shows that really emphasize all kinds of diversity, and it gave us Unique! Who didn’t want to root for this character after her rendition of Boogie Shoes?

The last character and show that should get some recognition is Jude from The Fosters. Jude is a middle school aged character exhibiting gender ambiguity. The Fosters is a great show on a channel that is chock full of YA programming.  If you haven’t started this show yet, then I’m strongly recommending it to you. The show has lots of that soapy teen drama but it’s filled with heart. Here is one of my favorite scenes with Jude who went to school wearing nail polish and his new mom, Lena:

Trans* characters have the smallest representation in a group with a small representation to begin with in literature, film and television. It would appear YA lit and television are at least dipping their toe in the pool, while film seems to shy away from trans* characters completely. But is dipping a toe in the pool enough? I want to see more trans* characters in books, movies and TV. When people have someone, whether that someone is an actual person in their life or a fictional character, in which to identify, acceptance and understanding is easier. For most people, transgender persons are still largely a mystery to them and the embedded gendered stereotypes in our society don’t make understanding any easier. We need art to help us bridge that gap.

What do you think, readers? Are there any trans* characters in YA film and television that you can’t believe I missed?

-Katie Shanahan, currently reading The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

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One Response
  1. August 31, 2013

    Adam from Degrassi is a pretty big omission. My favorite thing about Adam was that he was introduced in an episode about winning tickets to a concert, which he attends with a few new friends. It’s not until his next episode that it is revealed he’s an FTM.

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